Oct. 31, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LUBBOCK, Texas -- If all goes as projected, Texas and Texas Tech will play the "biggest game in Tech history" Saturday in Lubbock. Two unbeaten teams, No. 1 versus No. 6, but when the Raider marketing folks starting calling for a "Blackout" that began to stir memories of visits past by the Longhorns to play the Red Raiders on the South Plains.
Nowadays, folks around Austin post bumper stickers that say, "Keep Austin Weird." But when it comes to strange, nothing comes close to the first time Texas and Texas Tech met as conference brothers in Lubbock.
It was the season of 1962. It was the first time Texas Tech had ever hosted Texas as a member of the Southwest Conference at Jones Stadium in Lubbock. And it turned out to be a night to remember.
You could call it the night they put the "foot" back in "football" or you could say it was the nights the lights went out in Lubbock. It was a perfect evening for football. Two years before, Texas Tech had competed for the first time as a member of the Southwest Conference -- but the games in 1960 and 1961 had been played in Austin. Now, 42,000 fans -- the largest crowd ever at Tech -- had come to see the Red Raiders play the No. 3-ranked Texas Longhorns.
So, on a perfectly normal night, things began to become abnormal.
First, Texas Tech won the toss and elected to receive. The Raiders' Larry Mahan caught the ball at the 3-yard line, and as the Texas defenders came down field, he stopped. And punted the ball over their heads. It came to rest at the Texas 38. Rules have changed since, but at the time you could punt the ball from anywhere on the field. The game, after all, was called "foot" ball.
But the strange night was only beginning. Three plays into the Texas drive, the lights went out at the stadium. After a brief delay, power was restored to about half of the light towers. But the clock and the scoreboard were out for the rest of the first half.
In that day, teams were limited as far as substitutions were concerned, and the coaches based those by the time on the clock. That meant that the officials, who were keeping the time by a stopwatch on the field, had to inform the benches of the time, and the down and distance constantly.
With all of that going on, Texas still managed a 14-0 halftime lead, and went on to score 20 fourth-quarter points in a 34-0 victory after the lights came back on.
J. T. King, a former Longhorn player and coach, was one of the most respected men in football, and he was the head coach of the Raiders. He had tried the punt on the kickoff because he thought he could get a good roll and pin Texas deep...but the ball died sooner than he had hoped. It was, after all, during a time in college football where folks like Longhorn coach Darrell Royal used a "quick kick" as a weapon.
There was one other difference. The Longhorns of 2008 are awfully proud of Colt McCoy and his phenomenal pass completion percentage. So just for the record, let it be noted that three Texas quarterbacks that night hit 83 percent of their passes. Of course, they only threw six times, completing five.
In the years since, the Longhorns' trips to the South Plains have often been eventful, win or lose.
Most notable, of course, was the season of 1968. Texas had gone through three straight 6-4 regular seasons. Darrell Royal and his staff, loaded with a top flight recruiting class known as "the Worster Crowd" (so named for Steve Worster, the top running back in the recruiting class of 1967), were determined to make things change on the 40 acres.
So Royal and his offensive backfield coach Emory Bellard had come up with a new formation, patterned after the old "straight T", but with the fullback lined up a yard behind the quarterback. The alignment had been unveiled in a 20-20 tie in the season opener. But when things stymied for quarterback Bill Bradley and the Horns in the first half, Royal looked down his bench and made a change at the signal caller position.
The Longhorns couldn't overcome the Tech lead, but a star was born that night. The substitute quarterback was a junior named James Street, who would lead Texas to 20 straight victories, never losing a game as a starting quarterback.
Questioned afterward about what words of encouragement, or profound wisdom, Royal might have imparted to him before he entered the game, Street recalled, "He just looked at me, looked back at the field, and said 'You can't do any worse!'"
Thus, a legend was born, right there in Lubbock.
Eight years later, on the night before the Longhorns' meeting with the Red Raiders in 1976, Royal reached another decision that would have incredibly far reaching effects on the Texas football program. At 52 years old and in his 20th season at Texas, he confided to close associates that he planned to retire after the season.
His star running back, Earl Campbell, was recovering from a hamstring pull, and with the Longhorns appearing on track to return to the Southwest Conference championship and the Cotton Bowl berth, Royal thought the year would have a happy ending. Instead, Campbell re-pulled the muscle, and Tech won, 31-28.
By the time the Longhorns next visited Lubbock in 1978, the series was beginning to become heated. At that time, Tech's spirit group, the Saddle Tramps, would come to the airport and meet the visiting team with a show of hospitality. They would roll out a red carpet, and applaud politely as the opponent deplaned.
Having lost two straight games in Lubbock in 1974 and 1976, the Longhorns were in no mood for friendly gestures. Defensive tackles Steve McMichael and Bill Acker looked at the carpet, then at the Saddle Tramps, and pushed their way past them, walking on the tarmac. The Longhorns won, 24-7.
The history of the series for the next couple of decades was dotted with a few memorable Tech upsets, like the 24-20 win in 1980, a 23-21 victory in 1986, and a 33-32 win in 1988. Since then, however, Texas has won six and Tech three, with the most recent Texas Tech win coming in 2002 against an injury-riddled Texas, 42-38.
Mack Brown is 8-2 against the Raiders, with only a 42-35 loss in 1998 in Lubbock and the 2002 game blemishing the record.
While there are Longhorn faithful who dread the trip to Lubbock, Brown has embraced it. He feels his team likes the "big game" atmosphere, and the Longhorns' road record of losing only three games at an opponent's site in the 21st century bodes well.
The teams and the programs have come a long way since that night in 1962. The Big 12 wasn't even a dream then, and the success of the league in 2008 has exceeded even the best expectations of its creators.
The South Zone, with Texas, Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all ranked among the nation's leaders, is likely the strongest grouping in a conference of the year, surpassing the highly regarded Southeastern Conference in terms of national respect.
The national media is watching. The teams and the fans from both schools are pumped.
Now, there is only one thing left to do.
Play the game.